Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program
A case out of the Fourth Appellate District in Gallia County serves as a lesson for farmers in Ohio who have roadside stands and sell products using the honor system. This case involves a honey stand owned by Frederick Burdell. He kept cash in the freezer at his stand so customers could make change for their purchases. The case, State v. Montgomery, was an appeal from the Gallipolis Municipal Court’s conviction of first-degree misdemeanor theft of honey and money from a “self-service honey stand.”
On appeal, the person convicted of theft claimed that the State of Ohio did not have enough evidence to convict her, and that her conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence. In other words, she argued that the State did not have enough evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she committed the crime. The appellate court did not agree with the defendant’s argument; her conviction was upheld. For owners of roadside stands, the most relevant part of this case may not be the legal arguments, but instead, the evidence that was provided by the owner of the honey stand. Mr. Burdell’s surveillance setup around the honey stand helped the jury find the defendant to be guilty of theft. Owners of roadside stands for honey and other agricultural products should take note of the tools Mr. Burdell had in place to surveil his stand, as well as what he might have done to better protect his business from theft.
The appellate court’s opinion reveals that Mr. Burdell had multiple cameras set up around the honey stand, which were able to capture footage of a car driving down the driveway and a passenger exiting the car. From another viewpoint, a camera was able to record the defendant taking two items out of the refrigerator and all the cash from the freezer. Another shot provided a close-up, “head to toe” view of the woman walking away. What is more, the video captured the actions in color—so the jury was able to see the color of the car and the hair color of the thief. The appellate court found that the video evidence was sufficient enough for the trial court to reach the decision that the defendant was the perpetrator.
Owners of roadside stands can learn from Mr. Burdell’s set-up if they want to protect themselves from theft. Multiple color cameras placed at multiple angles around the area helped Mr. Burdell recover some of his loss from the theft. Owners may want to test cameras to make sure they are set up at good angles. In addition, although it is not clear from this opinion whether or not Mr. Burdell had security lights and other lighting around his stand, owners of roadside stands may want to consider the lighting around their premises—inadequate lighting might be detrimental to seeing what is happening in surveillance footage.
The trial court ultimately awarded Mr. Burdell $20 in restitution for the theft, which was the value of the honey stolen. Mr. Burdell was not reimbursed for the money that was stolen, apparently because he could “not state…with certainty” how much money was taken from the freezer, instead he guessed it could have been up to $50. There are certainly numerous tools roadside stand owners can use to keep track of money in their stands more accurately. Owners can keep detailed records of what products are in their stand at any given time and their prices, so they know exactly how much money should be in the cash box at all times, even after customers make change. Roadside stand owners can also make sure they or an employee or family member monitors the area around the stand from time to time, counts the cash, and possibly take away excess cash not needed at the site and store it in a safer place. Essentially, any actions an owner can take to keep track of how much cash is in a stand with more accuracy could prove helpful in recovering stolen cash if they ever find themselves in a situation like Mr. Burdell.
While the theft from Mr. Burdell’s self-service honey stand was unfortunate, it may serve as a helpful reminder to farmers who own similar honey, produce, or other stands of what they can do to protect their businesses. It is also timely information as farmers prepare for spring and summer sales from roadside stands. For those interested in more information on the case, the full opinion is available here.